The perversion of metzitzah b’peh

What I am about to tell you, I did not know about until today. My mind is blown. I thought I knew all there was to know about the horrors of religion. I was wrong. 

Cultural relativism is one thing, but we have to draw the line somewhere. How about at the Orthodox Jewish practice of the mohel’s orally sucking the blood from the freshly mutilated genitals of male infants? Have you seen this scandal yet? It’s called “ritual circumcision with oral suction,” or in Hebrew, metzitzah b’peh.  New York authorities are recommending that rabbis use a different technique after they discovered that several infants contracted neonatal herpes from the practice. Some babies were brain damaged. Two have died. 

Turns out the government has known about this ritual for several years and has not moved to stop it. Public health authorities are responding by distributing pamphlets to educate the community. That’s nice. How about we criminalize the practice? Meanwhile, leaders in the Orthodox community have already said the practice is an important tradition, that it is healthy for the infants (I just watched a rabbi claim that saliva is an antiseptic), and that they will continue the ritual. They appeal to religious freedom.

Why are the authorities playing nice here? If we are going to have laws against adults performing fellatio on minors, then we ought not allow these laws to become muddled by religious exemption. Are we really going to say that it is wrong to suck an infant’s penis unless it is in the context of a religious ritual? Folks are okay with that? I don’t think so. At least they shouldn’t be. We need a clear and simple law: an adult man is not allowed to put his mouth on the genitals of an infant. 

And while we’re at it, let’s once and for all outlaw the practice of mutilating the genitals of children, female and male. The sucking part just adds a layer of horror to the horror of genital mutilation. It’s 2012. It’s time for humanity to grow up and get serious about the problem of religion. You can believe anything you want in your head, but when you include children in your rituals, you have crossed the line. The state of New York needs to move now and ban this practice forever. Charges of anti-Semitism be damned. Do the right thing. Save these children from this perversion.

UPDATE: On September 13, 2012, the New York City Board of Health voted unanimously to require that parents sign an informed consent before metzitzah b’peh is performed. What about the infant’s right to informed consent?

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Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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